Suggestions for Study
Book I: Theme and Plot
(Note: The following assumes that you have already read the Plot Summary in the "Introduction" to Fagles' Iliad [pages 3-5])
The theme of the Iliad is the "Rage of Achilles," announced in the first line of the poem. Achilles' rage is aroused as a result of the quarrel with Agamemnon in Book I, and it takes the concrete form of his withdrawal from the fighting. In Book XIX, Achilles returns to battle, but now his rage has shifted toward Hector, the killer of Achilles' friend Patroclus. This new manifestation of rage does not abate until Book XXIV, when Achilles agrees to return Hector's body to Priam.
The action of the Iliad thus encompasses only one episode which is about two months' long in the final year (the tenth year) of the ten-year war against Troy. Aristotle admired this aspect of the Iliad, and said that a poem about the whole war would have been too long and bulky for comprehension. (See Aristotle, Poetics, Chapters 8, 23.)
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Book I: Plot Situation
Homer does not specify the "cause" of the war against Troy until Book XXIV, when he alludes casually to "the judgment of Paris." See page 589, lines 32-36, and the story of the legend of the Judgment of Paris on pages 632-33 of the "Notes on the Translation" (Notes to 24.35-36).
At the beginning of Book I of the Iliad, the war is in its tenth year. The Greeks have been camped out on the plain around Troy for many years. According to Thucydides, the Greeks would have captured Troy easily shortly after their arrival if they had not been hampered by lack of provisions. But since they could not bring enough with them, they were forced to turn to raids and agriculture to maintain themselves, and this required the dispersal of their forces. (See Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, Book I, Chapter 11.)
The text of the Iliad bears out what Thucydides says; for example, Achilles in Book IX.398-400 claims to have sacked 23 cities:
"Twelve cities of men I've stormed and sacked from shipboard,
eleven I claim by land, on the fertile earth of Troy.
And from all I dragged off piles of splendid plunder...."
It was on one or two such raids that Chryseis and Briseis were captured. Achilles tells Thetis that the women were part of the plunder when the town of Thebe was raided: see lines 430ff.; later, in XIX.68, he says that Briseis was part of the plunder when he sacked Lyrnessus. For the locations of Thebe and Lyrnessus, see the map on page 73 of the text and the annotation of the map. Chryse, the home town of Chryses, Apollo's priest, was probably located on the west coast of the Troad.
How did Chryseis come to be captured in a raid on Thebe when her home was in Chryse, some distance away? The ancient commentators on the Iliad wondered about this too, and here is what one of them says: Achilles was deterred by Athena from attacking Chryse, and turned his attention instead to Thebe, where Chryseis happened to be visiting the wife of Eetion, Thebe's ruler (see line 433), for the sake of some religious function, and was caught there during the raid.
In any case, after each raid, the plunder was divided among the army and chief warriors: see Achilles' remarks to Thetis in lines 433ff. But Chryseis was the daughter of Chryses, the priest of Apollo. (According to lines 43-45, Chryse, Cilla and Tenedos were all sacred to Apollo, and Cilla was probably located near Thebe.) Chryses was thus able to appeal to Apollo for divine intervention to aid in the recovery of his daughter, when Agamemnon refused to ransom her. And so the Iliad begins.
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Book I: Characters and Names
Thucydides thought that the Greeks, or Hellenes, were not unified as a distinct people until after the Trojan War, and he demonstrates this point by appealing to Homer's use of three separate designations for the Greek forces: Danaans, Argives and Achaeans. (See Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, Book I, Chapter 3.) All three names appear in Iliad, Book I; see lines 13 (Achaeans), 49 (Danaans) and 70 (Argives). You can get an idea of the geographical range of the territories from which the expedition to Troy was made up by consulting the maps on pages 68-71 of the text, and the map annotated to show the homelands of the major Greek heroes.
Major Greek Heroes (consult also the Glossary at the back of the text); these short notes are just designed to help you keep the players straight, and to clarify for you the separate designations which are used for each:
Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, leader of the expedition, brother of Menelaus, son of Atreus, also called Atrides (= "son of Atreus")
Achilles, warrior from Phthia, leader of the Myrmidons, son of Peleus
Patroclus, Achilles' close friend and companion, son of Menoetius, originally from Opois in Locris, as we find out only in Book XXIII.110-110, when the "shade" or ghost of the dead Patroclus addresses Achilles. In Book XI.935ff., where Nestor reminds Patroclus of the instructions with which each father (Peleus and Meneoetius) sent his son off to war, it emerges that Patroclus is older than Achilles.
Menelaus, king of Sparta, the capital of Lacedaemon, brother of Agamemnon, son of Atreus, also called Atrides (= "son of Atreus")
Ajax, son of Telamon, commander of the forces from Salamis, second greatest Greek warrior after Achilles.
Odysseus, son of Laertes, commander of the forces from Ithaca and the surrounding islands.
Idomeneus, leader of the forces from Crete; he does not appear as a character in any of the Books that we read.
Nestor, the oldest of the Greek leaders, commander of the forces from Pylos
Olympian Gods and Goddesses (for further details, see the Glossary)
As you will discover when you read Hesiod's Theogony, the Olympian gods and goddesses are a family and they comprise the third generation of divinities born from the union of Gaia (Earth) and Sky (Ouranos).
The second generation was composed of the Titans, powerful divinities who were eventually overthrown by Zeus. Among the Titans were Cronus, Zeus' father, Rhea, Zeus' mother, Oceanus (Ocean), and Hyperion, the sun divinity. (Helios, who is the Olympian Sun god, is Hyperion's son.)
The Olympians who figure in the Iliad are: Zeus, Hera, [Poseidon], [Hades], Ares, Hephaestus, Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, and Hermes.
Of these, Zeus, Hera, Poseidon and Hades belong to the elder generation of Olympians, born from the union of Cronus and Rhea. Ares and Hephaestus were born from the union of Zeus and Hera; Apollo and Artemis were born from the union of Zeus and the goddess Leto; Aphrodite was born from the union of Zeus and Dione, a river nymph; Hermes was born from the union of Zeus and the goddess Maia; and Zeus gave birth to Athena himself. Athena is also known as Pallas Athena or Pallas. Apollo is also called Phoebus Apollo or Phoebus.
Thus, Ares, Hephaestus, Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, and Hermes are all the children of Zeus. And although Zeus, Hera, Hades and Poseidon all belong to the older generation, Poseidon does not live on Olympus, and neither does Hades, who is the god of the Underworld. So the Olympian "family" is made up of Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of Olympus, and their and his children (Ares, Hephaestus, Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, and Hermes).
In the Iliad, Hera, Athena, and Poseidon are the special champions of the Greek cause, and Ares and Apollo are the chief defenders of Troy. Aphrodite is also partial to the Trojans, principally because her son Aeneas is an ally of the Trojans.
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Book III: Plot Situation
Link here for a detailed summary of the Books of the Iliad.
The Iliad begins, as you know, in the tenth year of the war. In Books II and III, Homer himself fills in some of the background, by the plot device of moving the action forward in a manner that also allows for a retrospective view of details.
Thus, in Book II, Agamemnon musters the troops, and this provides an occasion for Homer to introduce the "catalogue of ships," an account of how many ships came from where in Greece, and by whom the battalions on them were led. We find out, for example, that Agamemnon's forces came in 100 ships (the largest contingent), and that he gave the Arcadians 60 ships, since they were land-dwellers. (Click HERE to see where they lived relative to Agamemnon.) Nestor brought 90 ships, but most of the other leaders brought 40 ships or fewer. (Achilles brought 50, Odysseus 12, Menelaus 60, Ajax 12.)
When the Trojans hear that the Achaeans are mustering for war, they do the same. And this provides the occasion for Homer to review their forces. Hector was their leader, commanding "by far the greatest, bravest army" (Book II, line 928); and after him was the Trojan ally Aeneas. (Click HERE to see from where the Trojan allies were drawn.)
So, when Book III opens, both sides are leading their forces out onto the Trojan plain. And the duel between Menelaus and Paris (Alexander) provides an occasion for Helen to come out to the wall and identify the leaders for Priam (the king of Troy and Hector's father) and the other elders. It is of course unlikely that Priam has actually waited ten years to find out who the leaders of the invading forces are--but we don't know who they are, and this device allows us to find that out.
The leaders identified by Helen (Agamemnon, Odysseus, Ajax and Idomeneus) are not the only principal Achaean heroes: we have already encountered Achilles and Nestor in Book I, Menelaus in Book III, and in Book V Diomedes will be featured (see below).
Idomeneus is the leader from Crete (see map), and is important in books of the Iliad that we do not read.
Ajax is the best of the Achaean warriors after Achilles; he is the leader from Salamis, also called Telamonian Ajax or Greater Ajax. This is because there is another Ajax, son of Oileus, called Oilean or Little Ajax, leader of the forces from Locris. To see the difference in their homes of origin, click HERE.
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Book III: "Helen and all her wealth"
At the beginning of Book III, Paris proposes a duel between himself and Menelaus "for Helen and all her wealth." The winner, he says, will take the treasures and Helen, and then the Trojans and Achaeans will conclude a truce (lines 84ff., pp. 130-31). What were these "treasures" and how did Helen come to possess "wealth" in a society like the (patriarchal) one depicted in the poem? Commentators have wondered about this, and a modern one (G.S. Kirk) says, "These [treasures] must be the possessions, including some that were strictly perhaps Menelaus' rather than hers, which Helen and Paris took with them from Lacedaemon [Sparta]." Give some thought to this matter, and see what you yourselves think about it. (You might also want to consult Book XXII, lines 136-39, page 545, where Hector describes the treasures when he is debating with himself whether to remain outside the walls of Troy and face Achilles.)
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Book III: "that first time"
At the end of Book III, Paris recalls "that first time / when I swept you [Helen] up from the lovely hills of Lacedaemon" and they went and made love "on Rocky Island" (lines 519ff., page 143). Where was this island? Ancient and modern commentators have debated the question. Some think that the Greek term for "rocky" (kranae) is a descriptive epithet, and not a proper name. Some think it was an island called Cranae, off Lacedaemon's port of Gytheum; others think it was Cythera; others think it was the island called Helene off the south-east coast of Attica. What might each location have to recommend it, in your opinion?
About this scenario as a whole, G. S. Kirk thinks that the idea that Helen managed to bring many possessions with her is not consonant with the picture here, which envisions "a swfit and romantic abduction." What do you think? Are the two scenarios contradictory?
Note also that, in Book VI, lines 342ff. (page 205), we find out that Paris either returned from Lacedaemon to Troy by way of Sidon in Phoenicia, or else stopped there on his way to Lacedaemon from Troy.
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At the opening of Book VI, the gods, who
had joined the action on the battlefield in Book V, have
withdrawn to Olympus. (This is what is meant by the opening
line: the troops were "on their own.")
Book VI: Priam's Palace
When Hector enters the city of Troy and comes to Priam's palace, the structure is described as having 50 sleeping chambers for the sons of Priam, and 12 for the daughters of Priam (lines 291ff.).
The ancient Greeks and Romans identified Troy with the site known in modern times as Hissarlik. It was excavated by Heinrich Schliemann beginning in 1870, and in 1890 Schliemann's assistant, Wilhelm Dörpfeld, identified Level VI as the one represented in the Iliad.
According to traditional dating criteria, Homeric Troy was sacked around 1270 BCE, early in the thirteenth century BCE.
Recent archaeological excavations of the site, however, have established that Troy VI was destroyed around 1350 BCE (perhaps by earthquake) and that Troy VII was destroyed by fire around 1250 BCE.
Contemporary reconstructions of Troy VI as seen from the North and from the East, based on the archaeological evidence and on comparisons with other, better preserved and more systematically excavated Bronze Age palaces, attempt to give modern readers a sense of what Troy might have looked like in the Bronze Age period.
No secure evidence, however, allows us to state unequivocally that the Trojan War as depicted by Homer ever took place.
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Book VI: Priam's Children
Not all of Priam's sons are named in the Iliad; and of those that are, not all are also the sons of Hecuba. The twenty sons that are named include: Hector, Paris, Helenus, Agathon, Antiphonus, Antiphus, Cebriones, Deiphobus, Democoon, Dius, Doryclus, Gorgythion, Hippothous, Isus, Lycaon, Mestor, Pammon, Polites, Polydorus, and Troilus.
The sons that were born from Hecuba include Hector, Paris, Deiphobus, Helenus, Troilus, and five others who are minor figur in the tradition.
Other sons are identified as the progeny of Castianaira (Gorgythion) or of Laothoë (Polydorus and Lycaon), and others are called "bastard sons" (Cebriones, Democoon, Doryclus, Isus). About the other sons we aren't given any information which allows us to specify their status.
Note that in Book XXI, Lycaon says that Priam wed his mother "with many other wives" (line 100, p. 523), so we can presume the existence of some form of polygamy. Since other sons are identified as bastards (see just above), Priam must have had both several wives and also several concubines.
(For a list of 47 of Priam's sons, see a passage in the late mythographer Apollodorus.)
In Book XXIV Priam lashes out at nine of his sons (Helenus, Paris, Agathon, Pammon, Antiphonus, Polites, Deiphobus, Hippothous, and Dius), saying that he wishes they had died instead of Hector (lines 294ff., page 596). This group of sons includes all named sons who are not killed in the course of the Iliad.
(Cebriones is killed by Patroclus at VIII.364; Democoon by Odysseus at IV.576; Doryclus by Great Ajax at XI.577; Gorgythion by Teucer at VIII.344; Isus by Agamemnon at XI.118; Antiphus by Agamemnon at XI.121; Lycaon by Achilles at XXI.129; Polydorus by Achilles at XX.463; Hector by Achilles in Book XXII; Troilus by an unnamed Achaean at XXIV.305; and Mestor under unspecified circumstances [XXIV.305]).
Priam's daughters who are named in the Iliad include Cassandra and Laodice, both traditionally Hecuba's daughters. Six others appear in the tradition, according to Apollodorus.
Cassandra is described as "Priam's loveliest daughter" at XIII.424 (page 353), when her bridegroom Othryoneus is killed by Idomenus.
Laodice is described as "the loveliest daughter Priam ever bred" at III.149, when Iris assumes her form to summon Helen to the walls of Troy, and she is described as "the loveliest daughter Hecuba ever bred" at VI.300, when Hector encounters her with Hecuba.
Book XXII: Plot Situation
Consult the Plot Summary on page 4 of the Introduction to Fagles' Iliad for an overview of the action between Books VI and XXII. The main sequence of events outlined there is:
the turning of the tide of battle against the Achaeans (Book VIII),
the largely unsuccessful embassy to Achilles (Book IX),
the resumption of battle (Books XII-XV),
the entry of Patroclus into battle wearing Achilles' armor (Book XVI),
the killing of Patroclus by Hector (end of Book XVI), and
Achilles' re-entry into battle wearing a new suit of armor fashioned by Hephaestus (Books XIX-XXI).
For more detail, see the Detailed summary of Books of the Iliad.
At the end of Book XXI, Achilles has just attacked the Trojan Agenor. But Apollo, who has come down from Olympus to aid the Trojans, spirits Agenor off the battlefield, assumes his form, and leads Achilles out onto the Plain of Scamander while the Trojans retreat en masse within the walls through the Scaean Gates (lines 591-700, pages 537-40).
As Book XXII opens, Apollo reveals his deceit to Achilles.
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Book XXII: "Polydamas will be the first"
As we find out in Book XI, Polydamas, along with Aeneas and the three sons of Agenor, are the commanders of the first Trojan contingent under Hector (Book XI, lines 64-8, page 298).
Beginning with Book VIII, the plan of Zeus is put into action whereby, in accordance with his promise to Thetis in Book I, the tide of action is turned against the Achaeans. Hector rises into prominence and leads the Trojan assault successfully.
By Book XII the Achaeans have withdrawn behind the wall they erected around their ships, and Hector prepares to storm it. Polydamas, however, advises caution, and at first Hector follows his advice (Book XII, lines 72-101, pages 327-28; see also Iliad Summary, Book XII).
Later, however, Polydamas counsels retreat in the face of an unfavorable bird-omen, and Hector contemptuously rejects his advice (Book XII, lines 240-90, pages 332-33).
At the end of Book XIII, as Achaean resistance grows stronger, Polydamas once again urges caution, and Hector heeds his advice (Book XIII, lines 836-70, pages 364-65).
Finally, in Book XVIII, Achilles signals his readiness to rejoin the battle by sounding his war-cry. The Achaeans are heartened, and the Trojans are seized with terror.
In a council-meeting of the chiefs, Polydamas counsels retreat, but Hector, for the last time, angrily rejects his advice. (Book XVIII, lines 280-364, pages 475-77; see also Iliad Summary, Book XVIII).
Hector, at this point, is encouraged by the glory he has already seized (Book XVIII, line 340, page 477) and hopes to win more, anticipating even that he might kill Achilles (Book XVIII, lines 357-60, page 477). This is the event to which Hector refers in Book XXII, lines 118-22, when he says that Polydamas "had urged me to lead our Trojans / back to Ilium just last night."
Book XXII: Andromache
The last time we saw Andromache, she had returned home and was leading her women in mourning "for Hector still alive" (Book VI, line 598, page 212). She has not appeared in the poem since that point, and she does not appear again after Book XXII until Book XXIV, line 831 (page 611), when Priam returns with the body of Hector.
Last updated 16 January 2000